Masters behind him, Dustin Johnson puts short memory to work
Dustin Johnson was back on the stationary bike, moving forward without really going anywhere.
The good news for golf’s No. 1 player is that an MRI showed only a deep bruise on the left side of his lower back. If doctors had taken images a little higher up the torso, they also might have seen a slight tear in his heart.
”One thing I never want to have to do again,” Johnson said Tuesday, ”is watch a major from my couch.”
At least he watched. And it wasn’t all bad.
He was thrilled to see Sergio Garcia overcome a two-shot deficit in the Masters and two decades of frustrations in the majors. Johnson could relate to that, having been in position to win a major four times before winning the U.S. Open last summer at Oakmont.
Good luck finding someone who can relate to Johnson’s experience at the 81st Masters.
Sure, there have been times when a No. 1 player had to withdraw from a major. But not when the player was coming off three straight victories against the strongest fields of the year. Not when that player was five minutes and 20 yards from the first tee.
And never has an injury to a No. 1 player been so bizarre on so many levels.
He had finished his final nine holes of practice Wednesday before the storms rolled in. Johnson had gone to the gym and had just returned to his rented house at Augusta when it started raining and he wanted to move his car.
Wearing only socks, he slipped down the staircase, crashing onto his back and left elbow.
”It was terrible,” Johnson said. ”And the weirdest part is, I never walk around in socks. For some reason if I walk around barefooted, my left foot starts to hurt. That’s why I always have shoes on. But I just got back from the gym and wanted to run down and move the car over. And I slipped.”
Johnson said it was the worst pain he has ever felt.
”I thought I broke my back in half,” he said. ”I really thought my back was broken.”
He still thought about playing when he left the practice range Thursday, only to realize on the putting green that he couldn’t. Johnson said he was hitting his 4-iron about 200 yards in the air (it usually flies 235 yards) and he had no idea which direction the ball was going until he hit it. Over the next 15 minutes, on the cart ride to the putting green and a few more full swings between putts, reality won out.
”The more I thought about it, there was no chance,” he said. ”It just took a while to convince myself.”
There was a small measure of relief that tests revealed only a bruise. When he flew home to Florida, he said, his lower back hurt for two days. Now it’s in a confined area near the bruise. He has returned to a routine, which includes work in the gym.
”I’m not really doing much,” Johnson said. ”Today I started moving a little bit. Yesterday I did a little bit of chest and arms. Moving up and down, I’m fine. If I’m twisting, it’s a little sore. And I’m making some swings, but I’m not hitting any balls.”
As bad as the timing was, it could have been worse.
Johnson had scheduled the next three weeks off, so there will be no temptation to play before he is fully recovered. His next tournament is the Wells Fargo Championship that starts May 4, the first of three in a row.
And while it hurt to watch the Masters on TV, it felt good to see Garcia win.
”Sergio and I are friends,” he said. ”I was rooting for him. It was cool to see him get that first one. I know a little bit of what he’s been through. He’d been close quite a few times, just like I had been close. It took him a lot longer.”
People talk about how it takes time for that first major to sink in. Johnson might never grasp his unfortunate turn of events, even for someone who has dealt with his share of setbacks.
In a 2015 interview, when asked his biggest disappointment, Johnson said, ”I’ve had a lot of (stuff) happen to be me, but I came out better on the other side.”
His short memory might be one of his great assets.
For all blunders on the golf course that he quickly forgets about, this one shouldn’t be much different. He is still playing the best golf of his life. He still has a chance at his next tournament for a fourth straight PGA Tour victory, which would be the longest streak since Tiger Woods, who won five straight over six months.
”One reason I’m good at golf is because I try not to let it bother me,” Johnson said. ”It sucks. It sucks right now. But I woke up this morning, and it was a good day.”
And he still has a large collection of trophies at home.
”That doesn’t hurt,” he said.